EAST LANSING, Mich. Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio paused and grimaced when asked about the state of his football program.
Michigan State, considered among the Big Ten's preseason favorites, now has lost three games at home after a 19-16 double-overtime loss to Iowa on Saturday. The Spartans (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) face in-state rival Michigan in Ann Arbor next week. Then comes a trip to defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin and a home game with Nebraska.
There are no easy answers, just hard questions.
"I think we have to look at where we are as a program right now and what's the next step for us," Dantonio said. "When I say re-evaluate, I'm not talking about personnel; I'm talking about what we're doing right now. Re-evaluate our goals and what we have to do now to win the Legends Division. Obviously, we have to win next week."
Michigan State continues to struggle in the passing game, and Saturday's performance against Iowa was the worst this season. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 12-of-31 passes for 179 yards and tossed a game-ending interception in double-overtime.
"We left ourselves a few third-and-longs again," Maxwell said. "It's something that we just have to keep rolling, something that we have to start fast. If we can start fast and be consistent with it, then it's going to be easy for us to continue that during the games."
After halftime, the Spartans converted just 3-of-10 third-down opportunities. Maxwell struggled even more with only 6-of-21 completions in the second half and overtime. He missed several throws, including a few that were open.
"We hit some shots; we just came up a yard short on a couple of third-down conversions where (wide receiver) Aaron (Burnbridge) had a chance to advance," Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Rousher said. "I think there was some good coverage."
Time is running low on the Spartans' chances of repeating as Legends Division champions. Dantonio and his staff know it, and there's an urgency to fix it before it's too late.
"We still hae a very good football team and have lost two very close games," Dantonio said. "When you lose in double-overtime, you're looking at one play here or there that we could have made."